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The Night Tiger

Review

The Night Tiger

Near the end of THE NIGHT TIGER, one of the main characters sits down to read an Arthur Conan Doyle mystery. This is a sly nod to the fact that, even though, in many ways, Yangsze Choo’s new novel is set worlds away from Sherlock Holmes’ London, it nevertheless offers at its heart a rather Holmesian murder mystery, complete with surprising villains, means and motives.

The year is 1931, and the setting is Malaya (known today as Malaysia). Ji Lin is a young, intelligent and attractive woman, but she has had to set aside her dreams of pursuing higher education or a career, instead being compelled to work at a dressmaker’s shop and (secretly) as a dancing companion for men at a night club, in order to pay off her mother’s gambling debts. When she steals a glass vial from the pocket of one of her dancing partners, she is disturbed to realize that it contains a human finger, preserved in salt --- a fact that becomes even more disturbing when she learns, a few days later, that the man whose vial she took has died suddenly.

"...an unusual and surprising blend of mystery and magic, one that takes readers into historical realms both real and imagined."

Ji Lin is increasingly alarmed about the mysterious object in her possession, especially when she realizes that other people may be looking for it. Soon she’s on a dangerous odyssey into a world whose obstacles she may not be entirely equipped to overcome.

Meanwhile, a young houseboy named Ren, who is also smarter and craftier than his humble origins and age would suggest, is on an odyssey of his own. His former master, an English doctor, has died from malaria, and his dying wish is for Ren to track down his amputated finger so that he may be buried with it and consequently rest in peace. He also provides Ren with a reference and sends him off to serve as a houseboy to a younger colleague, also an English doctor, who, Ren soon discovers, may be hiding some secrets of his own.

THE NIGHT TIGER offers an interesting glimpse into Malaysia in the 1930s, which was already a melting pot of cultures, aspirations and belief systems. Choo sympathetically outlines the prospects (or lack thereof) for young Chinese women like Ji Lin living in Malaysia at that time. In addition to these well-researched details, she infuses her novel with folklore and superstition, as well as more than a little bit of magic. Ren and Ji Lin encounter one another in dreams, and take direction from Ren’s deceased twin brother, to whom both of them are psychically connected. The book also includes legends of weretigers, superstitions regarding numbers, dates and ages, and the symbolic significance of names.

All of these elements combine with the Sherlockian murder mystery structure to create an unusual and surprising blend of mystery and magic, one that takes readers into historical realms both real and imagined.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 22, 2019

The Night Tiger
by Yangsze Choo

  • Publication Date: February 12, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250175453
  • ISBN-13: 9781250175458